“Before the coming of faith we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:23-29 (NIV)
As a Christian and a leader in my congregation, I am often perplexed by the many special interest groups within our Disciples of Christ denomination. NAPAD, GLAD, National Convocation, Hispanic Ministries and Reconciliation Ministries are just some of these. I find myself asking “Why, in this enlightened age of the 21st Century, is there still a need for special organizations focused on race, gender or sexual orientation? How can this be?”
It may be that I, and the other “Baby Boomers” out there, grew up in a completely different world than the one in which we serve today. While we didn’t all go to the sock hop, drive a Deuce Coupe or smoke Lucky Strikes, we did live in a world of segregated facilities; a world of husbands at work and women at home; and a world where most homosexuals were deeply in the closet. In fact, prior to 1962, homosexuality was essentially illegal.
Like the Galatians that Paul is addressing in his letter, many of us were “born under the law.” We learned that if we obeyed the law, our lives would be good, and if we disobeyed the law, then our lives would be miserable. So we went about our way, practicing “duck and cover” drills in school, playing Little League baseball and listening for the Air Raid sirens that we heard on the first Saturday of every month at 10:00am, all the while ignoring the fact that there were people who were not like us. And then came the sixties.
I was not quite six years old in January 1961 when President Kennedy told us to look at the world differently. I, like almost every member of my generation, clearly recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when President Kennedy was killed just 1,000 days later. I remember the Rev. Dr. King speaking passionately from the steps of the Lincoln memorial, and my neighbor David and his parents rejoicing that finally, finally the time had come for them to be treated as equals. And I remember that horrible year of 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were both taken from us, when our cities were on fire due to race riots and when my father and David’s father took turns guarding our houses in Detroit while both families went to my great-aunt’s farm in the country.
I could continue on with a recap of the Viet-Nam war, Watergate and the resignation of our then-President. But suffice it to say that by the time I graduated from high school in 1973, the world was a very different place than it had been just a short decade before.
In 1973 homosexuality was removed from the classification of mental disorder, and replaced in the (not much better) category of Sexual Orientation Disturbance. In 1978, when the next revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association was published, homosexuality was eliminated from the book.
Thankfully, my children were born into a very different world; a world that was beginning to understand that diversity in gender, race and sexual orientation was to be celebrated rather than feared.
However, just like the Jewish Christians in Galatia, there are many people of my generation who still cling to the limits of law under which they were raised when it comes to who is “worthy” in God’s eyes. And just like Paul said to these people who wished to impose that law on others, leaders of the church today need to say “There is neither Black nor Brown nor Red nor White, gay nor straight, male nor female, for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.” We are all Abraham’s children, and through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, we have all become heirs of the promise that God made to Abraham.
Perhaps my awareness of people who are different from me came as a result of my Uncle Chuck “coming out” in the late 80’s. Perhaps it was because I came to know and respect people who did not look like me, who were women or Latinos or whatever it was that separated us from each other. Somewhere along the way, I heard God telling me that the world’s way of ‘categorizing’ people was sinful; and I was taking part in a system that was hurtful to God. Despite my upbringing to the contrary, I finally understood that there was no need for me to continue to observe the old law. That law had been superseded by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
As Disciples of Christ, we are called to welcome anyone into our community who wishes to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God. We have been told unequivocally that we are to Love the Lord with all our being, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
So as Paul said to the Galatians “Before the coming of faith we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” No, we are no longer under the old law. The law of exclusion and separation; the law that declared people to be unclean because of things beyond their control; the law that some of us still observe in order to exclude and separate other children of God from the table that we say is open to all. Jesus taught us as new law of love, grace and mercy; and it his table, which is all the law that we need.